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Local Kids to Be Schooled In HIV/AIDS Prevention

Before public school students learn algebra—or even addition and subtraction—they will learn about HIV and AIDS. These lessons could help save lives, according to Betty Rothbart, director of the Department of Education’s Office of Health Education and Family Living. “We still have a state of emergency,” Rothbart, speaking at Community District Education Council 22 last week, said. The new curriculum was announced by the mayor and other officials in late November, just before World AIDS Day. The curriculum will be reflective of new changes in science, testing, and treatment methods, and includes lessons for children from kindergarten to the 12th grade. Information grows more detailed as students get older, she noted. The hope is that the lessons will teach kids that through “personal responsibility,” Rothbart said, “they can take steps to prevent HIV.” Mandated topics include: the nature of the disease; methods of transmission; and methods of prevention. Methods of transmission are not discussed with kindergarten through third graders, she said. Shunning sexual activity is the best way to prevent infection, the curriculum teaches. “We very strongly emphasize abstinence all the way through the curriculum,” Rothbart said. “It is the most effective and appropriate way,” she added. With television, movies and video games filled with sex, abstinence is rarely an option offered to kids, she reasoned. “They won’t get lessons about abstinence anywhere but school,” Rothbart said. “It is a curriculum filled with wholesome messages,” that teaches student to be empathetic to a tragic, global epidemic, she continued. Still, parents opposed to the new curriculum may opt out of certain lessons on HIV prevention, Rothbart said. Each school keeps a copy of the curriculum, readily available for parents to inspect, according to the Department of Education. Principals at each school determine which staff are best suited to teach the lessons. New York City has the second highest rate of new HIV/AIDS infections in the country, after Washington D.C, she noted. A day before Rothbart spoke to a mostly empty auditorium at Intermediate School 381, she was under fire at a panel discussion held in Manhattan. Members of the Task Force on Sexual Health and HIV Education in New York City Public Schools, a group of 30 non-profit organizations, said the curriculum barely touches on sexual orientation and doesn’t mention masturbation or abortion at all, according to City Limits. “AIDS is more than a science project. It has to resonate with young people where they are,” Joe Pressley, director of the New York AIDS Coalition said, according to the report. Critics said any updates to the material have yet to be revealed. Rothbart, according to the report, urged patience but “struggled to maintain her composure.” When the DOE unveiled the new curriculum it vowed the new lessons would be taught by the end of the school year. The update is the first in nearly 10 years to a curriculum that began in 1987.

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